Love and a river of anguish

May 16, 2008 12:00 am | Updated October 10, 2016 05:10 am IST


“Pandit Jagannath” reverberates with contemporary political connotations.

The bloody struggle for the succession to the Mughal empire between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb inspired some playwrights to define the dramatic personae and their worldview involved in this struggle. M.S.Sathyu’s “Dara Shikoh” and K.S.Rajendran’s “Aurangzeb” are well-known theatrical pieces recently seen on the Delhi stage. In “Pandit Jagannath,” which was presented at Shri Ram Centre this past week by Kshitij, we have yet another play that deals with the last phase of Emperor Shahjahan that culminated in the triumph of Aurangzeb and the brutal end of Dara Shikoh.

The focus of “Pandit Jagannath” is not on the royal intrigues, betrayals and the tragic story of Dara Shikoh. The playwright uses this historical drama as a backdrop to highlight political rank opportunism, personal aggrandisement in times of social chaos and bloodshed. The play also depicts the tragedy of true love when moral values are shattered and humans behave like brutes. Barring Shahjahan, all the characters are fictional. Though set in mid-17th Century India, the play reverberates with contemporary political connotations, suggesting that whenever ideology and convictions are discarded in the name of pragmatism, the opportunists and the turncoats have a field day climbing the ladder of political power.

Written by the late Vidyadhar Gokhle, the play has been translated from the original in Marathi into Hindi by Sudhir Kulkarni, a well known theatre personality. A graduate from the National School of Drama, Bharti Sharma has directed the play bearing the stamp of her fine artistry. A sensitive actress and director, Bharti came to the limelight with her debut performance in the title role in “Rajula-Malushahi” directed by B.M. Shah with music scored by Mohan Upreti in 1981. Though veterans like Vinod Nagpal and V.M.Badola were cast in important roles, it was Bharti who stole the limelight. Then a beautiful teenager, endowed with a melodious voice and the body of a trained Kathak dance, her performance was critically acclaimed by connoisseurs of the theatrical art and the press. One leading English daily published her photograph on the front page. Eulogising her portrayal of Rajula, theatre critic and scholar Nemi Chandra Jain wrote that her Rajula became the darling of the audience. This was a turning point in the career of Bharti. She joined NSD and later its repertory company as an actress. She has not looked back since. Under the banner of Kshitij, which along with new NSD graduates, she founded in 1987, she produced many memorable plays.

Economical expressions

While watching her latest venture “Pandit Jagannath” the basic elements of her oeuvre are in evidence — the production is neat, the members of the cast act with restraint, displaying economy of expressive means. Her comic performers do not resort to overacting but are effective enough to offer humorous moments.

However, the scene which deals with the confrontation between Pandit Jagannath, who expresses his ardent wish to marry Lawangika, the adopted daughter of Shahjahan tends to be facile. In fact, this is the key scene and it sets afoot further action. The emphasis is more on external composition. There is little insight into the inner world of the characters. The element of suspense should have been explored. But the production has its highpoint in the treatment of the denouement, which captivates the audience. Light effects by Himanshu B. Joshi and the use of fabrics create the illusion of the flowing Ganga, into which Lawangika plunges to escape from the bloodthirsty killers, followed by her husband Pandit Jagannath.

Deep Kumar’s Pandit Jagannath is a great scholar who has translated Islamic doctrine into Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures into Urdu. In the process both Hindu and Muslim fanatics become his enemies. Sumit Vats as Dara Shikoh reveals the unorthodoxy of his character, his respect for Hindu scholars. Basu Sharma gives a delicate portrayal of Lawangika, a highly cultivated woman whose love for her husband is so deep that she embraces death rather than surrender to her abductors. Deepak Sagar as Kalandar Khan offers amusing moments.

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